In an Education Week article titled Common-Core Testing Drives ‘Tech Prep’ Priorities, author Catherine Gewertz describes an interesting phenomenon taking place in public schools across the country. As Common-Core testing has moved to computer-based assessments, it seems that teachers and administrators are discovering that the students that they assumed to be “digital natives” actually have some difficulty with skills such as keyboarding, scrolling, and manipulation of a mouse. In response, schools are undertaking what Ms. Gewertz calls “Tech Prep,” test-prep for the technological components of test taking. This prep consists mostly of keyboarding lessons, but also includes practice clicking and dragging objects, scrolling, and other basic computer literacy skills.
I am firmly convinced that this article offers us a fleeting first glimpse at the negative effects of removing direct technology instruction from the regular curriculum. As administrator Emilie Knisley states, “kids do have experience with technology, but it’s touch screen or cellphone.” Unfortunately, the author does not drive the following point home to her readers: our school systems are neglecting to provide a generation of students with a firm foundation in computer literacy- something that has become vital to being a competent, well-rounded citizen and employable adult. Hopefully the technology education pendulum is beginning to swing back towards direct instruction of these key skills.
The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been released, and they paint a grim picture of our eighth graders’ grasp of history and civics. As outlined in the Associated Press article Study: Most 8th graders score low in US history, civics authored by Kimberly Hefling (accessible here), only about a quarter of eighth graders performed at a proficient level or better in U.S. history, civics, and geography. The numbers for those performing at the advanced level are in the low single digits, and there are significant achievement gaps along racial lines with white and Asian students outperforming their Hispanic and black peers. This is concerning, as populations that have been historically disadvantaged should be keenly aware of history, if for no other reason than to help prevent the repetition of past injustices.
What explains this dismal performance? The focus for many schools is reading and math, as these are the subjects that are addressed in high-stakes testing (NAEP testing has no bearing on school funding). Sadly, this trend shows no signs of reversing. However, there is nothing to say that teachers can’t meet multiple objectives with one lesson and use engaging tools while doing so. Practice key reading skills with historical texts. Engage in a biography book study. Use historical data during statistics or graphing lessons. Make use of the wide range of civics, history, and geography apps and interactive websites to engage students across content areas. I’ve listed some below to get you started, but comment below with the resources that work for you!